Hawaiian Airlines is entering a new era. An era that elevates the passenger experience to a level few would expect of a leisure-focused carrier. It’s been years in the making, but Hawaiian’s new Business Class is taking off. Branded as Leihōkū Suites, the premium cabin aboard the airline’s new Boeing 787s is nothing short of impressive.

Spoiler alert: Everybody gets direct aisle access, and every suite gets a door. This, from an airline currently flying an open, six-across Business Class cabin on flights to Australia. It’s a night and day difference.

There’s still a lot for Hawaiian to do. Refreshed lounges on the ground to match the new experience in the sky would be one welcome improvement. But every airline has to start somewhere – and it makes sense to begin where passengers will spend the most time: the aircraft itself.

In this Australian media exclusive, I take Hawaiian Airlines’ Leihōkū Suite for a spin between Hawaii and Arizona. That’s one of the Dreamliner’s initial destinations. The carrier plans to rotate the jets through various domestic ports before looking at destinations in its long-haul network. We can only hope that Sydney is high up on that list.

Check-in and lounge access

I begin today’s journey in Sydney – connecting through Honolulu to reach Phoenix. This means I get both of my boarding passes before leaving Australia. My bag is also tagged right through. But as with all arrivals into the US, luggage still has to be collected at Customs and dropped back off on the other side. It’s similar to arriving in Australia with an onward domestic connection.

Passport control is unusually swift, with just two people in front of me. It’s then a quick walk between terminals ahead of this flight. There’s a fast-track lane at security for Hawaiian Airlines’ First Class passengers – including those booked in Leihōkū Suites – and I’m through in about five minutes.

Hawaiian Airlines has two public lounges in Honolulu. The Premier Club is the go-to on routes like this, and it’s included with the ticket. But it’s basic. Expect soft drinks, coffee, nibbles… and that’s about it. You won’t find food of substance.

There’s also the higher-tier Plumeria Lounge. But if you’re flying to most US domestic destinations, you’d need a separate Priority Pass membership to qualify. This lounge offers more substantial bites, and alcohol too.

If you’re celebrating something special or just need more privacy, Hawaiian Airlines’ new ‘secret’ lounge, Apartment 1929, may also be available as part of Hawaiian Airlines’ new Premium Airport Services offering. But you’d pay US$500 for two passengers. Today, I get a chance to stop by – and I can see why people might pay for this on a honeymoon-type trip. Having your own space at a busy airport is special.

At the gate, First Class gets priority boarding. And if you happen to come from Apartment 1929, you’ll get a buggy or SUV to the aircraft, depending on the departure gate. It’s a buggy today.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787 Leihōkū Suites seating

The pointy end of Hawaiian Airlines’ Boeing 787 brings a monumental step up from the airline’s Airbus A330s. Rather than seats in a 2-2-2 setup with very little privacy, the Dreamliner swaps that for a 1-2-1 layout.

Naturally, this brings direct and uninterrupted aisle access for every passenger. But there’s something else to look forward to as well – a privacy door at each seat. Leihōkū Suites is such a monumental upgrade from Hawaiian’s previous-generation seat that it feels like a completely different airline. It’s clear – Hawaiian Airlines means business. Here’s an initial glimpse.

It’s apparent that considerable time and thought has gone into customising this seat. There isn’t just the usual overhead white light. There’s also a warm reading light that tilts and swivels. Near that is a vertical lamp with three-stage dimming, complementing your mood and desired vibe.

A dedicated smartphone pouch with in-built wireless charging keeps your gadget at easy reach – and juiced up. I was sceptical about its size, but it comfortably fits my Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra with the case still on. The horizontal bar pulls outward as the phone slides in, and it retracts to keep it snug while charging.

There’s a storage cupboard that just fits my headphone case and water bottle. And handily, the back of the door houses a mirror to fix your hair after those headphones come off. A power outlet (AC and USB-A) is within easy reach – there’s no adaptor required with an Australian plug.

Raising the leg rest is possible without adjusting the entire seat. But when you do convert your pod into a bed, there’s ample space to get comfortable. The aisle-side armrest can also drop down, increasing the seat’s usable width. Topping it all off, there’s an electronic ‘do not disturb’ signal, just like a fancy hotel.

Food and beverage in Hawaiian Airlines’ Boeing 787 Leihōkū Suites

You’re probably more interested in the seat, which will slowly start to appear on different routes. But here’s a glimpse at what it’s like to dine in Hawaiian Airlines’ Leihōkū Suites on a US domestic flight.

Service begins with a drink before takeoff. There’s no Champagne, but there is Flor Prosecco – and it gets the journey off to a pleasant start. Once we’re in the air, a drink and snack keep things moving. Today, it’s macadamia nuts and a glass of red (Shell Seeker Meritage), which pairs well with my next course.

For the main, there’s a choice between a curried braised beef brisket or a roasted kabocha (pumpkin) dish with rice. I select the brisket – delivered with baby carrots, fingerling potatoes and a grilled papaya salad. The beef is deliciously tender – it’s a great pick if I do say so myself.

Dessert brings a lovely rainbow cake with a nice little crunch from the base. A nip of Bailey’s alongside is hard to resist.

I spend most of the flight working, so take the chance to continue with a coffee (filtered: there’s no espresso here). Later, I enjoy a lemon chamomile organic herbal tea. Given we arrive close to midnight in Phoenix, I appreciate the crew knowing from memory that this is a caffeine-free pick when ordering.

Closer to landing, there’s one final taste of Hawaii – a cookie from Honolulu Cookie Company. It’s individually packaged, so it’s easy to take with you if you’d rather save it for later.

Service and entertainment

As I settle into my Leihōkū Suite, I can’t help but notice one colossal improvement compared to Hawaiian’s A330 Business Class. Where the A330 has provided via iPads in Business Class, with Leihōkū Suites, it’s built in. I can enjoy content from take-off right until landing, not merely in between.

The screen is vivid, responds easily to touch and is rather intuitive. Where basic inflight entertainment screens might show ‘0:00’ flight time remaining before you’ve even left the runway, this screen is smarter. ‘Soon departing for Phoenix’, it says. It’s something so basic, but it highlights Hawaiian’s attention to detail.

To the content itself, selections could be a little broader and newer – but there’s still plenty to watch. I’m multitasking and in search of something to enjoy in the background. Translation: something I’ve seen before and don’t need to watch intently to keep up because I already know what happens. I land on The Newsroom. It may be the journalist in me talking, but if you haven’t seen it before, it’s well worth watching (and with your full attention!).

If you’re departing Honolulu during daylight hours though, don’t get too glued to the TV. In fact, do whatever you can to grab a window seat. And on that front, I’ve learned that row six is one to avoid. Here, one window is missing, and the other is blocked by the shape of the TV. The best you can do is peer above the screen or hold your camera up there – as I did.

Service-wise, Hawaiian is attentive while being laid back. The crew make this flight feel more personal, introducing themselves to each passenger and noting their preferred name. I ding my call bell to order that herbal tea and the greeting comes as ‘hi, Chris!’. It’s like we’re old friends.

The verdict

Leihōkū Suites marks a new beginning for Hawaiian Airlines. It’s not just a new seat but a new era. The hard product is nothing short of impressive. Every detail has been considered; every aspect refined. The challenge now is going back to flying Hawaiian Airlines’ older seat, knowing what awaits on its newest jet. (And, going back to the Premier Club after experiencing Apartment 1929!)

For now, Hawaiian’s mainstay Airbus A330 continues serving on the carrier’s Sydney-Honolulu flights. There’s no word yet when Hawaiian will swing its new Dreamliner onto international routes after its initial domestic rotation. But when I catch up with Avi Mannis before the flight, Hawaiian Airlines’ Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer drops a couple of hints.

‘There are a lot of characteristics of the 787 that would make it a good fit for this market,’ he tips of Sydney. ‘I don’t know when in our schedule of deployment that will take place, but I do think that there’s a strong prospect of seeing that larger aircraft with a larger premium product in this market at some point.’

One thing’s for sure, though. Whether you get to experience this cabin in the near term or in the more distant future, you’ll really be in for a treat. And when you’re flying like this, it’s fair to say your holiday begins on the plane – not just when you land in Hawaii. A Hui Ho.

Also read: Hawaiian Airlines’ premium push is taking off

All photography by Chris Chamberlin, who travelled as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines.

Stay up to date with the latest news, reviews and guides by subscribing to Point Hacks’ email newsletter.
Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787 Leihōkū Suites (Honolulu – Phoenix) was last modified: June 3rd, 2024 by Chris Chamberlin